Although Karen and Jos have very kindly invited to stay with them as long as we like, we feel we should move on. It is not that we want to leave Ecuador in a hurry, but spending more time in Quito which is huge has no appeal and we need to give ourselves a buffer if time to sort out how we will get out of Colombia (the ferry service to Panama having been terminated this week). Before we leave, Jos and Karen, who have lived 18 years in Colombia before moving to Ecuador, give us some safety tips on security in Colombia which we will be sure to follow: we should not stop between Pasto and Cali and definitely not ride there at night.
What a ride out of Quito!!! How they managed to construct so many buildings and suburbs in this landscape, clinging to sheer cliffs, is incredible. You have to stay alert while driving around Quito as there are so many ramps and overpasses that go in opposite directions to where you are aiming, to get around cliffs or creeks and rivers. A bit of a maze. Luckily getting out of the city from Karen and Jos is a breeze and we are out into the beautiful countryside in no time.
We ride up and up again, up to 3,600 metres before going down again. Glorious roads and countryside.
Otavalo is renowned for one of its markets where people are dressed in traditional costumes and selling various clothes, shawls, ponchos, jewellery, most goods we are told resembling Peruvian goods – sounded way too touristy for us so Jos and Karen mentioned a route that took us near a lake on the outskirts of Otavalo and into tiny villages. We stop at a food market there and enjoy a quiet stroll and chat with an old lady. We chat, not quite understanding each other so hold hands and everything is clear. This is the side of travel we love. We started riding up towards a nature reserve, but after 3kms of pebbles up a narrow windy road, we turned back when it started raining, still going for the safe option as you see…
While Anthony rests at the hotel, I enjoy walking around the local market, watching a lady sewing, sitting in the main square watching people. Eventually, I make my way to the touristy market as many are packing up. What was interesting to see was that ladies there wear their traditional clothes everywhere. It is not just for tourists at the touristy market.
We get ready to leave Otavalo early as we will be crossing the border into Colombia today and want to make it to Pasto well before dark, and we have 227kms to cover plus an unknown amount of time at the border. We meet up with the hotel owner again as we are packing the bikes: did we find the stickers at the place he mentioned to us last night? No luck. So he decides to go off to the store himself and look for us. He has no luck either but how lovely of him!!
We enjoy our ride up to the border:
We arrive at the Rumichaca border at 10.30. The immigration processing office is so full that a security guard holds people back from entering. It takes us 2 hours to get the immigration exit stamp. Before going onto the Colombian border, we have a quick snack sitting on the side of the road – a can of salmon and dry biscuits – our favorite staple traveling diet. On we drive to the Colombian side which is very close, and up we walk to the immigration office which takes a couple of minutes and then onto the customs office. A gentleman in a crisp black suit greets us as we’re walking up to the office, and tells us in English that the office is closed but he’ll get someone to see us anyway. Very nice. They unlock the door and in we go. Unfortunately, the lady there is leaving her shift and her colleague who should be processing us is nowhere to be found. Just go and have lunch and come back she says. As we’ve had lunch, we decide it is best to ‘save’ our place in the queue, ie sitting at the desk waiting for someone to come back from lunch. We use that time for one of us to get the required photocopy of our passports with our immigration stamp (luckily, for once Kristjan had gone through the border before us, so we knew the process) and get our road insurance. An hour later, a customs guy arrives. It takes another hour for him to enter all the vehicule information into his computer, while about 20 people still wait outside the locked office. What delayed us a little more was the requirement to take a carbon rubbing of our chassis number – not easy when it is printed on a label, not engraved but they got enough and we were finally stamped into Colombia 4 hours after arriving at the border.
Our first priority is to drive into Ipiales to get our SOAT road insurance as the border office computer was down!! You can buy your SOAT at at supermarket but where is that supermarket? Once in the centre, I suggest that Anthony stays with bikes while I hop into a taxi there and back. I take a quick photo of where we are so I can find my way back!!
Finally, we are off. We are in Colombia!! Wow, I have butterflies of excitement.
Our road insurance complete, we finally head out of Ipiales and start our journey towards Pasto. The scenery is so gorgeous, once again, every new bend surprising us even more. As a bike rider, the road is paradise. Gentle bends, perfectly cambered road, vistas as far as the eye can see of beautifully green rolling hills, then suddenly cliffs and deep green gorges. Here is how the scenery changed within 15′ (luckily my Lumix camera records the time as I would never remember such details):
We get to our hotel in Pasto around 5pm – Hotel Frances La Maison which Anthony spotted online. It is owned by a Frenchman, Patrice, who has been living in Colombia for 20 years. It is good to speak French!! We have dinner at a little pizza place 5′ walk down the road: I can say it was the best pizza I have ever had and the owner of Alina was such a wonderful and gentle guy. Colombia has a great feel so far and we are enjoying being here.